Have you ever missed a deadline or forgotten about a task because your tasks reside in multiple locations? Have you wished for a better way to share one version of a document with those outside of your organization without having to rely on email? Do you feel like you could improve your productivity if you just had the right tool to do so?
Microsoft has been pushing the cloud for a couple of years now and recently released an updated version of Office 365. The key improvements I want to point out have to do with SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online.
SharePoint Online includes a site type known as a MySite. This capability existed in SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 as well, but has been drastically improved. A new feature called Work Management is now included with the product and essentially aggregates all of your tasks into one location. When I say all of your tasks, I am referring to tasks that exist in Outlook, SharePoint Task lists, and even Project Online Projects. This functionality allows you to organize your tasks in the one location, mark tasks as important, add them to a personal timeline, and modify the task details all from this site.
You can also view these tasks in the Outlook Web App as well as below.
Working with Documents
New to SharePoint is SkyDrive Pro. This replaces the Shared Documents and Personal Documents libraries that existed in previous versions of the SharePoint MySites. Similar to the task aggregation capability, SkyDrive aggregates the most recent documents you have worked with, any documents you have chosen to follow, and documents that have been shared with you. All new versions of SharePoint include the ability to drag and drop documents into SharePoint.
Other capabilities that come with some of the online plans are improvements to the Office Web Apps, which provides greater capability to view and edit documents in the browser. A new feature called Office on Demand allows you to run a full version of software (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc.) on any Microsoft computer without actually installing it, making it easier to work with the documents you need while you are on the go.
A mobile app is in the works for iOS and Windows 8. This functionality is already available in the Windows Phone Office Hub. See here for more information on these apps.
SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint Online provides more functionality than the on-premise version of SharePoint. For starters it comes with 7GB of storage per user. Most organizations would probably hesitate at giving users that much storage space with on-premise installations, as it could have significant cost implications per user. The biggest feature that comes with the cloud version is the ability to share documents with users outside of the organization. These users do not require licenses.
An employee can simply click on the lock icon for the file they want to share in the SkyDrive to open up a sharing invitation. Here they can type any email address and select if the user will be allowed to edit or view only. If 'Require sign-in' is selected the user invited will need to use a Windows Live account or create a new one to gain access. Otherwise the link can be shared anonymously. This will now enable us to work with one version of the document in a common location. Those external users will have the ability to view and edit the document in the browser if they do not have the office software.
When an external user is invited to share the document, they receive an email similar to the one below.
Sharing externally is a configurable option. Administrators can disable this at an enterprise level.
Messaging systems have been proliferating across organizations and have greatly improved productivity over the past few years from an internal standpoint. With Lync Online we can add users from across other messaging platforms; this includes people in other organizations that use Lync, Windows Live, and Windows Live Messenger. Lync presence shows up almost everywhere inside Microsoft products with its tight integration with Office 2013, SharePoint Online, and Exchange Online. How cool would it be to open up a word document to make some changes and see that someone else is already there making changes? You can instantly communicate with the user from the office applications to discover what they are doing.
Lync doesn't stop there. It also includes web conferencing, HD video, PC to PC calling. It also gives you the ability to join meetings directly from your smartphone.
Outlook web access now includes a connector for LinkedIn giving you the ability to pull in all of your contacts for quick access.
SharePoint Online has also introduced more comprehensive Enterprise Social features that also allow for enhanced communication. For more information, see our Communities in SharePoint 2013 post to learn about the Communities aspect. Microsoft has recently released a SharePoint Newsfeed app for viewing the social features in 2013 allowing you to always keep up to date on the go.
There is always more…
The services are all great to get started in the cloud and with the new release you have the ability to add apps from the Microsoft Online stores for SharePoint, Outlook, Word, Excel, and Project, or you can create your own.
In addition to SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online additional services are available in Office 365 including:
- Office Professional Plus
- Visio Professional
- Project Online
- Project Online with Project Professional
- Exchange Online Protection
- Azure Active Directory Rights Management
- Exchange Online Archiving
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
We recommend the Office 365 E3 plan for organizations. Visit Microsoft's site for more details.
It is worth noting that a lot of the functionality discussed in this post works with the On-Premise versions of the software. The one exception is sharing content externally from SkyDrive Pro, this is only available in SharePoint Online at this time.